Dubai: Hundreds of passengers fled an Emirates airliner that crash-landed and caught fire in Dubai on Wednesday, resulting in the death of a firefighter and a four-hour shutdown of the busy airport.
The exact circumstances of the accident, which involved a Boeing 777 flying from India with 300 people on board, were not immediately clear. Video clips circulated on social media showed thick black smoke billowing from the centre of the plane, which was on ground. Its fuselage appeared to be lying on the runway with escape slides opened.
Shaji Kochikutty, who was on board the plane with his wife and three daughters, recounted surviving the “near disaster”. “We are grateful to be alive. What more can we ask for?” the Dubai-based businessman said, speaking to weekly newspaper XPRESS.
After the plane caught fire on landing, airline staff opened emergency exits and guided the passengers out, Mr Kochikutty said. “First, I sent my three daughters. My wife went next but hurt her knee while jumping out. I bruised my feet as I ran without my shoes. We were promptly given first aid and we are all fine now.” he added.
The director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority, Saif al-Suwaidi, said in a statement that “one of the firefighters lost his life while saving the lives of the others”.
Ruling out any security issue, Sheikh Ahmed spoke of an “operational incident” that happened on landing. The fire erupted on board the aircraft after the incident, he said, adding that the cause was not yet clear. Investigators had been sent to work with Emirates and the Dubai airport authorities.
Sheikh Ahmed said the pilot was an Emirati with more than 7,000 hours of flight time and the aircraft had “all necessary inspection checks” before take-off. There were 282 passengers and 18 crew members on board — 226 of whom were Indians, 24 Britons and 11 Emirati nationals.
Airport authorities halted all operations at Dubai International Airport for around four hours Wednesday, causing delays and diversions. Arriving planes were diverted to other airports in the UAE, Oman, and Bahrain, Emirates said.
While resuming operations later, Dubai International said its capacity was still restricted and it was operating with one runway.
Dubai is the world’s largest air hub in terms of international passengers, and is the base for Emirates, from where it serves more than 153 destinations. In 2013, Dubai opened a smaller second airport, Al-Maktoum International.
Emirates is the largest single operator of the Boeing 777, as well as the Airbus A380 superjumbo, and expanded its fleet to 250 aircraft last year.
The accident comes almost four months after a plane belonging to Dubai’s other carrier, flydubai, crashed and burst into flames as it was landing in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, killing all 61 people onboard.
On July 26, an Emirates Boeing 777-300 aircraft heading for Maldives made an emergency landing in Mumbai because of a “technical fault”.